Looking for a Bay compromise

Published 8:05 pm Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In this era of environmental sensitivity, it comes as little surprise that the Environmental Protection Agency is finally taking steps to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Suffolk is located inland of the Bay, meaning that whatever takes place within the city’s borders has little, if any, direct and immediate effect on this vital natural resource’s health. But Suffolk’s rivers eventually feed the Bay, and the runoff and percolation of water from and through its land have indirect, cumulative effects that could make a big difference in that health over the long term.

Conversely, whatever plan emerges could have its own long-term consequences on the city. Farmers, homeowners, landscapers, architects, builders and others could find themselves at the mercy of the federal environmental lobby if they are not represented during and given a measure of protection after the drafting of the new Bay protection plan.

In its 2009 State of the Bay Report, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation rated the Bay’s health at a 28 out of 100 and compared it to a baseline of 100 out of 100 that the waterway would have scored if it had been judged on the same criteria in the 1600s. Of course, realists understand that it’s 400 years later, and a growing population of humans could not be expected to have had no negative effects on its environment during the span of four centuries.

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Still, though, many signs point to a Bay that is struggling. “Dead zones” and algae blooms are relatively common occurrences today; high bacteria levels often make beaches along the Bay unsafe for humans; and fish-consumption warnings cover many of the rivers that feed the Bay. Clearly, something must be done to restore this great resource to some semblance of its former glory.

Some balance must be struck between the needs of the farmers and others whose activities are suspected of contributing to the unacceptable pollution levels and the need for society to protect and clean the Bay.

A hearing scheduled in Hampton and planned for a live Internet broadcast today will give all of the stakeholders a chance to make their thoughts known and, potentially, help mold the process. For area farmers, especially, it’s a meeting whose outcome could prove to be life-changing.

The EPA meeting will be held online from 1 to 3 p.m. and at the Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel, 700 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton, from 6 to 8 p.m. To register for the online meeting, visit www.gotomeeting.com/register/689259867.